COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
Estonia is a rapidly developing nation that has experienced significant success in reforming its political and economic institutions since regaining independence in 1991. Tourist facilities are generally good though some amenities may be lacking in rural areas. Some goods and services may not be available outside of major cities. English is widely spoken and understood in Tallinn and, to a lesser extent, in other large cities.
Estonia is a relatively safe country, although crime in Tallinn's �Old Town� is an ongoing concern, particularly during the summer tourist season. Travelers should exercise the same precautions with regard to their personal safety and belongings they would take in major U.S. cities. The most common crimes encountered by foreign tourists are purse snatching, pickpocketing, and mugging. Tourists are often targeted by individuals and small groups of thieves working together, especially during the summer tourist season. In public places, such as the Town Hall Square (�Raekoja Plats�), airport, train stations, and the Central Market, one must exercise special care in safeguarding valuables against purse-snatchers and pickpockets. Valuables should never be left unattended in vehicles and car doors should be kept locked at all times. Violent crime, though rarely directed against foreigners, does occur, mainly at night and often in proximity to nightlife areas. Car theft and break-ins also continue to be a problem in Tallinn.
Police capabilities in Estonia are improving, but still suffer from lack of equipment, training, personnel and resources. Many police officers speak only very limited English. Credit card fraud is an ongoing concern, as is internet-based financial fraud and �internet dating� fraud. Travelers should take prudent precautions to safeguard their credit cards and report any suspected unauthorized transactions to the credit card company immediately. Racially motivated verbal and, on occasion, physical harassment of Americans of non-Caucasian ethnicity can occur. If an incident occurs, it should be reported to the Embassy.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Estonia's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Estonia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.
Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.
MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
The quality of medical care in Estonia is improving but still falls short of Western standards. Estonia has many highly trained medical professionals, but hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources. Elderly travelers and those with health problems may be at increased risk.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Estonia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair
Driving in Estonia can be more dangerous than in much of the United States. Many roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit and not up to Western standards. Some drivers can be aggressive and drive above the speed limit. Pedestrians should be careful when crossing the streets, as drivers do not always stop at marked crosswalks. Wild animals, such as deer and moose, and icy road conditions can create unexpected hazards. Driving at night, especially in the countryside, can be particularly risky. Dark-clothed pedestrians walking along unlit roads or darting across dimly lit streets or highways pose a risk to unsuspecting drivers.
Local law requires that headlights be illuminated at all times while driving. Use of seatbelts by all passengers is required, and children too small to be secure in seatbelts must use child car seats. The speed limit is 50 km/h in town and 90 km/h out of town unless otherwise indicated. A right turn on a red light is prohibited unless otherwise indicated by a green arrow. Laws against driving under the influence of alcohol are strict and follow a policy of zero tolerance. It is not uncommon for the police to set up checkpoints on major streets and highways; drivers should pull over when asked. Americans planning to drive in Estonia must obtain an international driver's license prior to arrival.
For information about international driving permits, contact the AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. The Eesti Autoklubi (Estonian Auto Club), which is affiliated with AAA, provides emergency roadside assistance. Drivers do not need to be a member to receive assistance. However, the fees charged are higher for non-members. The number to call for roadside vehicle assistance and towing service is 1888. For ambulance, fire or police assistance the number is 112. Please note that for both numbers, the level of English spoken by the operator answering may be minimal.
For specific information concerning Estonian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Estonian Motor Vehicle Registration Center via the Internet at
http://www.ark.ee/atp/eng. Additional information may be obtained from the English-language website of the Estonian Road Administration,
http://www.mnt.ee/tsp/eng, or from
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
As there is no direct commercial air service between the U.S. and Estonia by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Estonia's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.
Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.
September 14, 2004